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How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check

The post How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

More than 800,000 Americans are currently affected by the government shut down. And, while it would make sense to force our congressmen and senators to also not get paid during that time, it just won’t happen.

survive a layoff

Even though you may not be working and getting a paycheck, it doesn’t mean the bills stop.  You still need to feed your family and take care of yourself.

The truth is that a layoff or furlough can happen to anyone at any time. And, if you already struggle to live paycheck to paycheck, not getting paid will certainly increase your stress level.

WHAT DO DO IF YOU MISS A PAYCHECK

First off, if you aren’t getting paid, you need to take a deep breath. I know it is stressful and you are struggling, but it is all going to be OK.

Your first instinct may be to go take out a second mortgage or unsecured loan.  You might be tempted to get some additional credit cards.  And, that retirement account may be calling your name.

Don’t do that.

All you are doing is adding more stress by increasing your debt or tax liability.  Then, when you do start having paychecks again, you end up with more bills to pay.

It may be a short term fix, with long-term consequences.  Just don’t do it.

Go ahead and have a good cry.  Then, wipe your tears and create a plan.

 

1. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A BUDGET

If you don’t have a budget, there is no time like the present to make one.  A budget is not going to restrict you from spending money.  In fact, it is the opposite.

Your budget shows you where you spend your money.  And, more importantly, where you might be able to cut back. It could mean stopping your gym membership and not dining out.  It could even mean canceling your cable service.

A traditional budget will show the income you bring in.  But, if you don’t have any regular paychecks, how do you do this?  You make your budget with the money you do have.

Don’t include the amount you normally make, but rather, just the amount currently coming in.  If there is no money at all, then create your budget with the money you have on hand.  You need to get everything out of every penny you make.

Your budget is crucial to surviving a layoff, furlough or government shut down.

 

2. COVER YOUR NEEDS

If you look at your budget, there are wants and needs.  A want is cable.  A need is housing.  When there is no money coming in (or less than usual), you must cover your needs.   This means making sure you pay for:

Housing
Food
Clothing
Transportation

Look at your budget and cover these expenses first.  Don’t pay your cable bill if you can’t put food on the table.  Cable is not important right now, but you must feed your family.

Once you cover your basic needs pay other bills in order of importance.  Don’t worry about the credit card bills right now – but pay your utilities.

You can’t pay everyone.  There is no getting around that.  Pay those you need to in order to protect your family.

 

3. SELL THINGS

A simple way to generate some quick cash is to find things you do not need and sell them.  The added bonus is that you get a chance to clean out the basement or the garage.

Use sites such as LetGo or Craigslist to sell big items.  If you have clothing check out ThredUp or Poshmark.  There is always someone who needs something.

 

4. STOP PAYING OFF DEBT

If you are in the midst of getting out of debt, you’ll have to stop — for now.  Getting out of debt can’t be your priority at this time.  You have to make sure you are taking care of your family.

Once your income returns to normal levels, you can pick up your debt snowball right where you left off.  And, if that means the balance had to increase in the short term, so be it.

 

5.  CUT BACK

When you struggle financially, it’s time for some big changes.  The first thing to do is look at your food bill.  See what you can cut from your spending.  Do some searches on Pinterest for very cheap family meals that you can make.

You may also want to check out different grocery stores.  For example, if you live near an ALDI, make a trip there to shop.  You’ll find almost everything you need, at very low prices.  You aren’t sacrificing quality.  You are just making the most of every dollar you spend.

Take a deep look at your budget and get rid of things such as monthly subscriptions like Hulu, gyms, etc.  You can always start these up again when you increase your income.  Once your income returns, you get to add these back in.  These are temporary cut backs just to help you survive this time.

 

6.  MAKE SOME CALLS

It is important to reach out to all of your providers and lenders to let them know you are part of the government shut down, or in the midst of a layoff.  You don’t want to risk getting service shut down due to lack of payment.

While many of them may not be able to make any concessions, they might be able to give you an additional month to pay or not charge a late fee.  But, you will never know unless you ask.  What’s the worst thing that will happen?

Note that during the winter months, utility companies are not allowed to discontinue services, but they can during other times of the year.

 

7. GET A SIDE HUSTLE OR TEMPORARY JOB

When there is no money coming in, you’ve got to find a way to change that.  It may be time to add a side-hustle. It could mean working fast food or getting a job at Walmart.  You just have to find a way to bring in money during this short period of time.

If your layoff or furlough is temporary, you may not be able to get another job. It could be part of the terms of your employment, so it is not an option.  That means you need to try a side-hustle.  It might mean you are an Uber driver or even tutor kids.

 

8.  ASK FOR HELP

Check your local food pantry or church to ask for help.  These organization can provide food and even money to help cover your bills.   You may also have family members who are willing to help by paying for your groceries or covering your electric bill.  But, you have to ask.

You have a family to provide for, so you can’t let your pride get in the way of getting them what they need.

 

WHAT DO WHEN YOU START GETTING PAID AGAIN

Once you are back at work and your income is back to what it was previously, don’t just go back to your spending like before.  You don’t want to struggle again should you find yourself in this same situation.

The most important thing to do is to work on building your emergency fund.  The idea is to build it up to have at least 3 – 6 months worth of living expenses covered.  I know it sounds like a lot.  And, it probably is.

You won’t build it up all at once.  It will take time.  But, you can do things such as sell more items or get a second job.  Even if you start saving just $10 a week, you’ll have saved more than $500 in a year.

surviving a layoff

The post How to Still Pay Your Bills During a Layoff or When You Miss A Check appeared first on Penny Pinchin' Mom.

Source: pennypinchinmom.com

Do College Rankings Matter?

student at college campus mobile

All articles about college rankings should perhaps be read with a grain of salt and primarily through a lens of what matters most to individuals about the college experience and what they’re hoping it will be an investment toward.

Prominent publications and people have conveyed a variety of views about whether college rankings matter:

The editor-in-chief of the Science Family of Journals said no in May 2020. “To any logical scientific observer, the fine distinctions of where schools show up on this (U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges) list are statistically meaningless—but try telling that to a roomful of alumni or parents,” H. Holden Thorp wrote.

Ian Bogost, distinguished chair at Georgia Tech, wrote in The Atlantic in June 2020: “The absurdity of a numerical ranking mechanism for colleges becomes apparent the moment you look at how U.S. News calculates it. The methodology reads like a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet: 8% for class size; 10% for high-school-class standing; 4.4% for first-to-second-year student retention, and so on.”

But just because the consensus leans toward “no” doesn’t mean it should be the last word on anyone’s ultimate decision about where to go to school.

Even U.S. News & World Report says on its best-colleges website: “The rankings provide a good starting point for students trying to compare schools. … The best school for each student, experts say, is one that will most completely meet his or her needs, which go beyond academics.”

What Are the College Rankings?

There is no single, ultimate, etched-in-stone set of college rankings. All over the world, there are entities using a wide array of criteria to appraise universities.

Rather than expecting a “yes” or “no” to the question of whether college rankings matter, it would be more beneficial to understand why “It depends” could be more appropriate.

If you’re aiming for an education from a prestigious school, and money is no object—well, first of all, congratulations and good luck.

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Money Moves to Make in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s

Reaching your twenties is an exciting milestone for most as it means you’ve officially entered adulthood. Along with that milestone comes new responsibilities and worries that we didn’t picture when our teenage selves dreamed of turning 21. We imagined our college graduation, moving into our first apartment, and launching our new career. That vision didn’t include dealing with student loan debt, taking on a low paying entry-level job, or having to confront that despite spending 4 years in college, you’re still unsure how the world of personal finance actually works.

It’s easy to dismiss it all because well you’re a 20 something, and you’ll have plenty of time to play catch up. The reality is that each decade plays an important role in our future financial health. Take the time now to learn about your money and follow the money moves outlined below to put yourself on a path of lifelong financial success and eventual freedom.

Money Moves to Make in Your 20’s:

Learn How To Budget

Building a budget doesn’t have to be overly complicated or time-consuming. It’s actually the first step in putting yourself in control of your finances because it means you know where your money goes each month. The good news is that there are lots of apps and online tools that can make the process a breeze. Consider a system like Mint that will connect to your accounts and automatically categorize your spending for you. The right budgeting tool is simply the one you’ll stick with long term.

Pay Off Debt

Debt isn’t all bad. It may be the reason you were able to earn your degree, and a mortgage may help you one day buy a home. It can also quickly overrun your life if you aren’t careful. Now’s the perfect time before life gets more hectic with family commitments to buckle down and tackle any loans or credit card balances so you can be debt-free going into your 30’s.

Build a Cash Cushion

The financial downturn caused by the pandemic has reminded the whole world of the importance of having an emergency fund. We don’t know what life is going to throw at us and having a cushion can help you navigate the uncertain times. Though it’s not all about having a secret stash of cash to deal with the bad news of life (medical bills, car repair, layoff), it can also be about having the cash to seize an exciting opportunity. Having savings gives you the freedom and security to deal with whatever life brings your way – good or bad.

Understand Credit

Your credit score can dictate so much of your life. That little number can play a big role in the home you buy, the car you drive, and even the job you hold as some employers (especially in the finance world) will pull your credit. It’s important that you check your credit report and score (also available through Mint), learn how it’s calculated, and work to improve it.

Money Moves to Make in Your 30’s:

Invest For Retirement

Now that you’ve spent your 20’s building the foundation for your financial life, it’s time to make sure you’re also tackling the big picture goals like saving and investing for retirement. I typically recommend that clients save 10% to 15% of their annual income towards retirement. That may seem like an insurmountable goal, but starting small by saving even 1 to 3% of your salary can make a big difference in the future. Also, make sure to take advantage of any matching contributions that your employer may provide in your retirement plan. If, for example, they offer to match contributions up to 6%, I would try hard to work towards contributing at least 6%.

Buying Your First Home

Buying your first home is a top goal for many, but it also seems to be getting increasingly more difficult especially if you live in a major city. The most important steps you can take is to improve your credit score, pay down high-interest debt, and be aggressive about saving for a down payment. Saving 20% down will help you qualify for the best loan terms and interest rate, but there are still home loans available even if you aren’t able to save that much. Just be realistic with your budget and what you can afford. Don’t let a lender or real estate agent determine what payment will fit into your budget.

Be Covered Under These Must-Have Insurances

You’ve spent the last several years building your savings and growing your family. It’s now crucial that you have the proper insurance coverage in place to protect your assets and your loved ones. Life and disability insurance are top of the list. Life insurance doesn’t have to be expensive or complex. Get a quote for term-life that will last a set number of years and protect your partner and children during those crucial years that they depend on you. Disability insurance protects your income if you become sick or injured and are unable to work. Your earning ability is one of your biggest assets during this time, and you should protect it. This coverage may be offered through your employer, or you can request a quote for an individual policy.

Invest in Self-Care and Well Being

Mental health is part of self-care and wealth. Most people don’t talk about how financial stress and worry affect their overall health. When you can take care of yourself on all levels, you will feel healthier and wealthier, and happier. But it is not easy. It takes work, effort, awareness, and consciousness to learn how to detach the value in your bank account or financial account from your self-worth and value as a human being. When you feel emotional about your money, investments, or the stock market, learn ways to process them and take care of yourself by hiring licensed professionals and experts to help you.

Money Moves to Make in Your 40’s:

Revisit Your College Savings Goal

As your kids get older and prepare to enter their own journey into adulthood, paying for college is likely a major goal on your list. Consider opening a 529 plan (if you haven’t already) to save for their education. 529 plans offer tax advantages when it comes to saving for college. There are lots of online resources that can help you understand and pick the right plan for you. Visit https://www.savingforcollege.com. This is also a great time to make sure you’re talking to your kids about money. Give them the benefit of a financial education that you may not have had.

Get Aggressive with Retirement Planning

Your 40’s likely mark peak earning years. You’ll want to take advantage of your higher earnings to maximize your retirement savings especially if you weren’t able to save as much in your 20’s and 30’s. Revisit your retirement plan to crunch the numbers so you’ll be clear on what you need to save to reach your goal.

Build More Wealth

You’ve arrived at mid-life probably feeling younger than you are and wondering how the heck that big 4-0 got on your birthday cake. We typically associate being 20 with being free, but I think we’ve got it wrong. There is something incredibly freeing about the wisdom and self-assurance that comes with getting older. You’ve proved yourself. People see you as an adult. Your kids are getting older and your finances are more settled. Now’s the time to kick it up to the next level. Look for ways to build additional wealth. This may mean tapping into your entrepreneurial side to launch the business you’ve dreamed of or buying real estate to increase passive income. Now’s also a great time to find a trusted financial advisor who can help guide your next steps and help you plan the best ways to build your wealth.

Revisit Your Insurance Coverage

Insurance was crucial before, but it’s time to revisit your coverage and make sure you’re protected especially if you decide to launch a business or buy additional real estate. This is also where a financial advisor can help you analyze your coverage needs and find the policies that will work for you.

Consider Estate Planning

Estate planning (think wills, trusts, power of attorney) isn’t the most fun / exciting topic. It involves imagining your gone and creating a plan for the loved ones you leave behind. It is also often overlooked by adults in their younger years. It’s easy to assume estate planning is something the wealthy need to do. It really comes down to whether you want to decide how your life savings will be managed or if you want a court to decide. It’s also crucial for parents with children who are minors to select a guardian and have those uncomfortable conversations with their family members about who would care for the children if the worst were to happen. It’s also a good time to visit this topic with your own aging parents and make sure they have the proper documents and plans in place.

 

Whether you’re in your 20’s, 30’s or 40’s, it can be easy to put off planning your finances especially in the middle of a pandemic. Most of us are busy, and it’s easy to tell yourself that you’ll have time to work on a goal in the future. Commit to setting aside one hour each week or even each month to have a money date and review your finances. Don’t let yourself reach a milestone birthday (30, 40) and regret not being farther ahead. Follow these money moves now to seize control of your financial future.

The post Money Moves to Make in Your 20s, 30s, and 40s appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

7 Reasons to Carry Mortgage Debt Into Retirement

It often makes financial sense to not pay off your mortgage before retiring.

Source: moneytalksnews.com

The Pros and Cons of Paying Off Your Debt Early

You dream of being debt-free, but is it all it’s cracked up to be?

Source: wisebread.com

How Much Should You Spend on Rent?

One of the most exciting parts of becoming an adult is moving out of your old place and starting your own life. However, as is the case with most major life events, moving out comes with a lot of added responsibility. Part of this duty is knowing and understanding your budget when shopping for the perfect apartment, condo, duplex, or rental house. So how much should you really spend on rent?

The 30 Percent Threshold

The first step in deciding how much you should spend on rent is calculating how much rent you can afford. This is done by finding your fixed income-to-rent ratio. Simply put, this is the percentage of your income that is budgeted towards rent.

As a general rule of thumb, allocating 30 percent of your net income towards rent is a good place to start. Government studies consider people who spend more than 30 percent on living expenses to be “cost-burdened,” and those who spend 50 percent or more to be “severely cost-burdened.”

When calculating your income-to-rent ratio, keep in mind that you should be using your total household income. If you live with a roommate or partner, be sure to factor in their income as well to ensure you’re finding a rent range that’s appropriate for your income level.

If you’re still unsure as to how much rent you can afford, consider an affordability calculator. Remember to consult a financial advisor before entering into a lease if you’re unsure if you’ll be able to make rent.

Consider the 50/30/20 Rule

Consider the 50:30:20 Rule

After you’ve set a fixed income-to-rent ratio, consider the 50/20/30 rule to round out your budget. This rule suggests that 50 percent of your income goes to essentials, 20 percent goes to savings, and the remaining 30 percent goes to non-essential, personal expenses. In this case, rent falls under “essentials.” Also included in this category are any expenses that are absolutely necessary, such as utilities, food, and transportation.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation in which you make $4,000 per month. Under the 50/20/30 rule with a fixed income-to-rent ratio of 30 percent, you have $2,000 (50 percent) per month to spend on essential living expenses. $1,200 (30 percent) goes to rent, leaving you with $800 per month for other necessary expenses such as utilities and food.

Remember to Budget for Additional Expenses

Now that you’ve budgeted for rent and essential utilities, it’s time to make a plan for how you’re going to furnish your apartment. One of the biggest shocks of moving out on your own is how expensive filling a home can be. From kitchen utensils to lightbulbs and everything in between, it can be pricey to make your space perfect.

For the most part, furniture falls under the 30 percent of personal, non-essential expenses. Consider planning ahead before a move and saving for home goods so that you don’t go into major debt when it comes time to move out.

Be on the Lookout for Savings

If your budget is slightly out of reach for your dream apartment, try to nix unnecessary costs to see if you can make it work. Look for ways to cut down on utilities, insurance, groceries, and rent.

Utilities: Water, heat, and electricity are all necessities, but your TV service isn’t. Cut the cord on TV and mobile services that may not serve you and your budget anymore. Consider swapping out your light bulbs for eco-friendly and energy-efficient light bulbs to cut down your electric bill.

Insurance: Instead of paying monthly renters insurance rates, save a fraction of the cost by paying your yearly cost in full. If you have a roommate, ask to share a policy together at a premium rate.

Groceries: Swap your nights out for a homemade meal. You can save up to $832 a year with this simple habit change. When grocery shopping, add up costs as you shop to ensure your budget stays on track.

Rent: One of the best ways to save on rent is to split the bill. Consider getting roommates to save 50 percent or more on your monthly rent.

A lease is not something to be entered into lightly. Biting off more rent than you can chew can lead to unpaid rent, which can damage your credit score and make it harder to find an apartment or buy a home in the future. By implementing these best practices, you’ll hopefully find a balance between finding a place you love and still having room in your budget for a little bit of fun.

Sources: US Census Bureau

The post How Much Should You Spend on Rent? appeared first on MintLife Blog.

Source: mint.intuit.com

How to Build Good Credit in 10 Painless Steps

If you want to whip your finances into shape, here’s a good New Year’s resolution: improving your credit score.

A lot of New Year’s resolutions fail because they’re so extreme. Think of all the bonkers weight-loss and money-saving goals that surface at the start of every year.

This resolution is different. No extreme measures are required. But there aren’t any shortcuts. Building good credit is a goal you need to commit to 12 months a year.

How to Build Good Credit in 10 Steps

Ready to make 2021 the year you finally prove your creditworthiness? Or are you looking to recover from a 2020 setback? Here’s how to build good credit in 10 steps.

1. Stay on Top of Your Credit Reports

It’s essential to monitor your credit reports, especially if you received a hardship agreement from a lender due to COVID-19. Under the CARES Act rules, lenders are supposed to report your account as paid in full while the agreement is in effect, as long as you weren’t already delinquent. But mistakes happen. Even in normal times, about 1 in 5 credit reports contained inaccurate information.

Through April 2021, you can get one free credit report per week from each bureau. (Typically, you’re only entitled to one free credit report per year from each bureau.) Make sure you access your reports at AnnualCreditReport.com, rather than one of the many websites that offer “free” credit scores but will make you put down your credit card number to sign up for a trial. File a dispute with the bureaus if you find anything you think is inaccurate or any accounts you don’t recognize.

Your credit reports won’t show you your credit score, but you can use a free credit-monitoring service to check your score. (No, checking your own credit doesn’t hurt your score.) Many banks and credit card companies also give you your credit scores for free.

Pro Tip

If the bureaus agree to remove information from your credit reports, expect to wait about 30 days until your reports are updated.

2. Pay Your Bills. On Time. Every Single Month

Yeah, you knew we were going to say this: Paying your bills on time is the No. 1 thing you can do to build good credit. Your payment history determines 35% of your score, more than any other credit factor.

Set whatever bills you can to autopay for at least the minimums to avoid missing payments. You can always pay extra if you can afford it.

A strong payment history takes time to build. If you’ve made late payments, they’ll stay on your credit reports for seven years. The good news is, they do the most damage to your score in the first two years. After that, the impact starts to fade.

3. Establish Credit, Even if You’ve Made Mistakes

You typically need a credit card or loan to build a credit history. (Sorry, but all those on-time rent and utility payments are rarely reported to the credit bureaus, so they won’t help your score.)

But if you have bad credit or you’re a credit newbie, getting approved for a credit card or loan is tough. Look for cards that are specifically marketed to help people start or rebuild credit. Store credit cards, which only let you make purchases at a specific retailer, can also be a good option.

4. Open a Secured Card if You Don’t Qualify for a Regular Card

Opening a secured credit card is one of our favorite ways to build a positive history when you can’t get approved for a regular credit card or loan. You put down a refundable deposit, and that becomes your line of credit.

After about a year of making your payments on time, you’ll typically qualify for an unsecured line of credit. Just make sure the card issuer you choose reports your payments to the credit bureaus. Look for a card with an annual fee of no more than $35. Some secured card options we like (and no, we’re not getting paid to say this):

  • Discover it Secured
  • OpenSky Secured Visa Card
  • Secured Mastercard from Capital One
A woman checks her credit card balance while on the phone.

5. Ask for a Limit Increase. Pretend You Never Got It

Increasing your credit limits helps your score because it decreases your credit utilization ratio. That’s credit score speak for the percentage of credit you’re using. The standard recommendation is to keep this number below 30%, but really, the closer to zero the better.

If you have open credit, ask your current creditors for an increase, rather than applying for new credit. That way, you’ll avoid lowering your length of credit, which could ding your score.

The downside of a higher credit limit: You’ll have more money to spend that isn’t really yours. To get the biggest credit score boost from a limit increase and avoid paying more in interest, make sure you don’t add to your balance.

Pro Tip

Don’t believe the myth that carrying a small credit card balance helps your credit score. Paying off your balance in full each month is best for your score, plus it saves you money on interest.

6. Prioritize Credit Card Debt Over Loans

Tackling credit card debt helps your credit score a lot more than paying down other debts, like a student loan or mortgage. The reason? Your credit utilization ratio is determined exclusively by your lines of credit.

Bonus: Paying off credit card debt first will typically save you money, because credit cards tend to have higher interest rates than other types of debt.

7. Keep Your Old Accounts Active

Provided you aren’t paying ridiculous fees, keep your credit card accounts open once you’ve paid off the balance. Credit scoring methods reward you for having a long credit history.

Make a purchase at least once every three months on the account, as credit card companies often close inactive accounts. Then pay it off in full.

8. Apply for New Credit Selectively

When you apply for credit, it results in a hard inquiry, which usually drops your score by a few points. So avoid applying frequently for new credit cards, as this can signal financial distress.

But if you’re in the market for a mortgage or loan, don’t worry about multiple inquiries. As long as you limit your shopping to a 45-day window, credit bureaus will treat it as a single inquiry, so the impact on your score will be minimal.

FROM THE CREDIT FORUM
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9. Still Overwhelmed? A Debt Consolidation Loan Could Help

If you’re struggling with credit card debt, consolidating your credit card debt with a loan could be a good option. In a nutshell, you take out a loan to wipe out your credit card balances.

You’ll get the simplicity of a single payment, plus you’ll typically pay less interest since loan interest rates tend to be lower. (If you can’t get a loan that lowers your interest rate, this probably isn’t a good option.)

By using a loan to pay off your credit cards, you’ll also free up credit and lower your credit utilization ratio.

Many debt consolidation loans require a credit score of about 620. If your score falls below this threshold, work on improving your score for a few months before you apply for one.

10. Keep Your Credit Score in Perspective

All the credit-monitoring tools out there make it easy to obsess about your credit score. While it’s important to build good credit, look at the bigger picture. A few final thoughts:

  • Your credit score isn’t a report card on the state of your finances. It simply measures how risky of a borrower you are. Having an emergency fund, saving for retirement and earning a decent living are all important to your finances — but these are all things that don’t affect your credit score.
  • Lenders look at more than your credit score. Having a low debt-to-income ratio, decent down payment and steady paycheck all increase your odds of approval when you’re making a big purchase, even if your credit score is lackluster.
  • Don’t focus on your score if you can’t pay for necessities. If you’re struggling and you have to choose between paying your credit card vs. paying your rent, keeping food on the table or getting medical care, paying your credit card is always the lower priority. Of course, talk to your creditors if you can’t afford to pay them, as they may have options.

Focus on your overall financial picture, and you’ll probably see your credit score improve, too. Remember, though, that while credit scores matter, you matter more.

Now go crush those goals in 2021 and beyond.

Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior editor at The Penny Hoarder. She writes the Dear Penny personal finance advice column. Send your tricky money questions to DearPenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, which helps millions of readers worldwide earn and save money by sharing unique job opportunities, personal stories, freebies and more. The Inc. 5000 ranked The Penny Hoarder as the fastest-growing private media company in the U.S. in 2017.

Source: thepennyhoarder.com

How to Make Better Financial Decisions

Woman learning how to make better financial decisions

A key financial decision people struggle to make is how to allocate savings for multiple financial goals. Do you save for several goals at the same time or fund them one-by-one in a series of steps? Basically, there are two ways to approach financial goal-setting:

Concurrently: Saving for two or more financial goals at the same time.

Sequentially: Saving for one financial goal at a time in a series of steps.

Each method has its pros and cons. Here’s how to decide which method is best for you.

Sequential goal-setting

Pros

You can focus intensely on one goal at a time and feel a sense of completion when each goal is achieved. It’s also simpler to set up and manage single-goal savings than plans for multiple goals. You only need to set up and manage one account.

Cons

Compound interest is not retroactive. If it takes up to a decade to get around to long-term savings goals (e.g., funding a retirement savings plan), that’s time that interest is not earned.

Concurrent goal-setting

Pros

Compound interest is not delayed on savings for goals that come later in life. The earlier money is set aside, the longer it can grow. Based on the Rule of 72, you can double a sum of money in nine years with an 8 percent average return. The earliest years of savings toward long-term goals are the most powerful ones.

Cons

Funding multiple financial goals is more complex than single-tasking. Income needs to be earmarked separately for each goal and often placed in different accounts. In addition, it will probably take longer to complete any one goal because savings is being placed in multiple locations.

Research findings

Working with Wise Bread to recruit respondents, I conducted a study of financial goal-setting decisions with four colleagues that was recently published in the Journal of Personal Finance. The target audience was young adults with 69 percent of the sample under age 45. Four key financial decisions were explored: financial goals, homeownership, retirement planning, and student loans.

Results indicated that many respondents were sequencing financial priorities, instead of funding them simultaneously, and delaying homeownership and retirement savings. Three-word phrases like “once I have…,", “after I [action],” and “as soon as…,” were noted frequently, indicating a hesitancy to fund certain financial goals until achieving others.

The top three financial goals reported by 1,538 respondents were saving for something, buying something, and reducing debt. About a third (32 percent) of the sample had outstanding student loan balances at the time of data collection and student loan debt had a major impact on respondents’ financial decisions. About three-quarters of the sample said loan debt affected both housing choices and retirement savings.

Actionable steps

Based on the findings from the study mentioned above, here are five ways to make better financial decisions.

1. Consider concurrent financial planning

Rethink the practice of completing financial goals one at a time. Concurrent goal-setting will maximize the awesome power of compound interest and prevent the frequently-reported survey result of having the completion date for one goal determine the start date to save for others.

2. Increase positive financial actions

Do more of anything positive that you’re already doing to better your personal finances. For example, if you’re saving 3 percent of your income in a SEP-IRA (if self-employed) or 401(k) or 403(b) employer retirement savings plan, decide to increase savings to 4 percent or 5 percent.

3. Decrease negative financial habits

Decide to stop (or at least reduce) costly actions that are counterproductive to building financial security. Everyone has their own culprits. Key criteria for consideration are potential cost savings, health impacts, and personal enjoyment.

4. Save something for retirement

Almost 40 percent of the respondents were saving nothing for retirement, which is sobering. The actions that people take (or do not take) today affect their future selves. Any savings is better than no savings and even modest amounts like $100 a month add up over time.

5. Run some financial calculations

Use an online calculator to set financial goals and make plans to achieve them. Planning increases people’s sense of control over their finances and motivation to save. Useful tools are available from FINRA and Practical Money Skills.

What’s the best way to save money for financial goals? It depends. In the end, the most important thing is that you’re taking positive action. Weigh the pros and cons of concurrent and sequential goal-setting strategies and personal preferences, and follow a regular savings strategy that works for you. Every small step matters!

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Mint Money Audit 6-Month Check-In: How Did Michelle Allocate Her Windfall?

In March I offered some financial advice to Michelle, a Mint user who was struggling with debt, a lack of retirement savings and a bit of family financial drama amongst her siblings.

Michelle was anticipating a cash bonus from her company and wasn’t sure if she should save the money or use it to relieve her debt.

I recommended a two-prong approach where she uses the cash to play savings catch-up in her retirement account and knock down some of her debt, which, at the time, included a $3,000 credit card balance and $52,000 in student loans.

Six months later, I’ve checked in with the 38-year-old real estate developer, to see if any of my advice was helpful and if she’s experienced any shifts in her financial life.

We spoke via email:

Farnoosh: Have your finances have improved over the last 6 months since we last spoke? If so, what has been the biggest improvement?

Michelle: Yes. I’ve aggressively been contributing to my 401(k) – about 50% of my pay – and had hoped to reach the annual maximum of $18,000 by June, but looks like it will be more like October. I also received a $40,000 distribution from a project that I closed.

F: What aspects of your financial life still challenge you?

M: Investing for sure. I never know if I’m hoarding too much cash. I am truly traumatized from the financial downturn. I just joined an online investment platform, but it was also overwhelming. Currently I have $45,000 in a regular savings account that earns 1.5%.

Another challenge is not knowing whether to just bite the bullet and pay off my student loans or to continue to pay them monthly.  I hate that I’m still paying loans 16 years after I graduated and it’s a source of frustration [and embarrassment] for me.  I owe $36,000. Often times I have an inner monologue about the pros and cons of just paying them off but then my trauma from 2008 kicks in…and I decide to keep my $45,000 nest egg safely where I can check the balance daily.

F: I recommended allocating $45,000 towards retirement. Was that helpful? What are some ways you’ve managed to save?

M: Yes, I recall you saying you recommended having a total of $100,000 towards retirement for a person my age. Currently, I have $51,000 in my 401(k), $35,000 in a traditional IRA and $17,000 in my Ellevest brokerage account, so I’ve broken the $100,000 goal.

I did add a car note to my balance sheet. My old car suffered a total loss (major electrical failure due to a sunroof leak!) and the insurance gave me a check for $9,000. I used it all towards the new vehicle (a certified used 2014 Acura) and I’m financing $18,000.

F: Your dad’s home was a source of financial stress, it seemed. Were you able to talk with your siblings and arrive at a better place with that?

M: My dad actually has passed since we last spoke. He passed in February and so his will went to probate. My siblings and I have decided not to make any decisions about the house for at least one year. Yes, this is kicking the can further down the street however, they recognize that I maintain the house and pay the real estate taxes and so they are not pressuring me to move or to sell.

The new deed has been recorded and the property is under all our names and so everyone seems ok with knowing that I can’t do anything regarding a sale or refinance unilaterally.

So, for now, I live rent free other than paying utilities, miscellaneous maintenance on the house and real estate taxes quarterly. This, too, is helping me save aggressively.

Also, the new car note has replaced the hospice nurse contribution so I’m not feeling that my budget is overburdened with the new car.

I think ultimately I will buy out at least two of my siblings and stay in the house. Verbally they have expressed being okay with this.

 

Have a question for Farnoosh? You can submit your questions via Twitter @Farnoosh, Facebook or email at farnoosh@farnoosh.tv (please note “Mint Blog” in the subject line).

Farnoosh Torabi is America’s leading personal finance authority hooked on helping Americans live their richest, happiest lives. From her early days reporting for Money Magazine to now hosting a primetime series on CNBC and writing monthly for O, The Oprah Magazine, she’s become our favorite go-to money expert and friend.

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